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Activist Communiqué

Krystalline Kraus's picture
Krystalline Kraus is an intrepid journalist and veteran reporter for rabble.ca since its 2001 beginnings. She needs neither a red cape nor safety goggles to fly into her latest political assignment. She often live-tweets from events -- almost exclusively First Nations and environmental issues. You can follow her on Twitter @krystalline_k.

Activist Communique: Occupying solidarity with Indigenous rights

| October 28, 2011
Activist Communique: Occupying solidarity with Indigenous rights

When I first heard of the Occupy movement, the first thing that popped in my head was: "Wait a minute, North America/Turtle Island is already occupied; it has been occupied for the past 400 years."

So in case you're wondering, the answer is no, I don't like the title of this movement and the least I can do is refer to the different cities involved as Occupy cities, as opposed to occupied cities because, well, like I said, they are already occupied.

I also use the term "are" in that last statement as opposed to "were" when referring to this land's occupation status since racism and colonization in Canada is not something of the past, but an ongoing, destructive process that Canadians need to admit to.

As an activist who walks in both worlds here -- allied with both the Indigenous rights struggle and the anti-capitalist, Occupy movement -- it's been a challenge. Let me explain why. Because this struggle is about more than just the use of a word: "occupy." Forgive me for my honesty.

I feel sad that as a "movement connected," we did not foresee how problematic the term "occupy" would be when referring to land on which settlers live -- and where the 99 per cent plans to demonstrate -- since this land has been occupied for the past 400 years. With this truth intact, how is it possible for us to occupy already occupied land?

I am disappointed that an understanding of Indigenous issues within the Occupy movement wasn't entrenched enough in our hearts to flag the word "occupy" as problematic when it was first suggested by the Canadian activist and publishing group Adbusters. But this is not the first time the movement has been called to account for its marginalizing of Indigenous issues. For more on this, please see Zainab Amadahy's article: Why indigenous and racialized struggles will always be appendixed by the left

And for anyone from the Occupy movement reading this to simply claim that a cobbled-together "solidarity statement" is alone enough to apologize for this oversight, I'm sorry, you're missing the point all together. For it is the 1 per cent who treats Indigenous issues as a necessary oversight to making money off the tar sands or a government's refusal to deal with land claims and/or acknowledge unceeded territories. Let's not act like them, shall we? Solidarity means real work on ourselves to decolonize ourselves and decolonize the movement.

It's nice to see the movement embrace First Nations concerns, it's another thing to humble yourself to do the necessary bridging work between the two communities. It's not enough to say you support Indigenous land claims and that you know how to say "thank you" in an Indigenous language, if you've never been on a reserve or worked with urban Aboriginals on their turf.

We can together read the work of B.C. activist Harsha Walia in her article: Letter to the Occupy Movement where she eloquently and humbly wrote:

"While occupations are commonly associated with specific targets (such as occupying a government office or a bank), Occupy Vancouver (or any other city) has a deeply colonialist implication. Despite intentionality, it erases the brutal history of occupation and genocide of Indigenous peoples that settler societies have been built on. This is not simply a rhetorical or fringe point; it is a profound and indisputable matter of fact that this land is in fact already occupied."

We can also together read the work of Indigenous rights activist Shiri Pasternak who provides much needed context of Indigenous struggles in her article Occupy(ed) Canada: The political economy of Indigenous dispossession in Canada when she asks:

"The political economy of Canada rests on claims of ownership to all lands and resources within our national borders. So, what, in concrete terms, does it mean to talk about Occupy(ed) Canada to express the demands of the 99 per cent?"

In fact, in my heart I know two things:

1. I want to decolonize the movement.
2. I want to stop the ongoing colonization of North America.

This said, one of the reasons why I back the Occupy movement is that is it an anti-capitalist movement. And colonialization is one of Mama capitalism's best handmaidens.

Remarking on the Occupy Wall Street movement, financial inequality and the 99 per cent, Robert Desjarlait writes:

"As far as financial inequity is concerned, we, the red and the brown peoples of the Americas, have suffered financial inequity ever since the oppressors first invaded our shores. Socio-economic inequity began with the subjugation of our lands through treaties."

In an open letter to the Occupy movement, John Paul Montano writes that as an a person of Indigenous descent, he does not feel included as part of the 99 per cent the Occupy movement claims to embody, because the crucial link to colonialism is missing.

"On September 22nd, with great excitement, I eagerly read your 'one demand' statement. Hoping and believing that you enlightened folks fighting for justice and equality and an end to imperialism, etc., etc., would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you -- that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land.

I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless '-isms' of do-gooders claiming to be building a "more just society," a "better world," a "land of freedom" on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land -- never mind an entire society."

There are bright examples of where the issue of colonization has had a prominent place within Occupy's heart. I am proud to be a part heartbeat here in Toronto, as we stand on the Indigenous land of the Mississauga of the New Credit.

Let me call to your attention.

Occupy(ed) Canada is a place to share decolonization viewpoints with other like-minded activists involved in the Occupy Canada movement because "this land is already under occupation. CANADA IS AN OCCUPATION." There is also a sister site on Facebook called Decolonize Vancouver.

Toronto, ON -- I am very proud of my Occupy Toronto community for their honesty and humility as we work together, share and learn new ways of approaching activism from the lens of various First Nations communities (there is no such thing as pan-Indian). I think we have all learned a lot over this past week and a half regarding how to work together, understand and really listen to one another. Taking the time to acknowledge and honour the traditional land we stand on, making safe place for Sacred songs and drums at the site and on marches, and allowing the truth about colonization to be spoken even when it makes us uncomfortable are all promising signs.

New Mexico: In response to concerns over the term "Occupy Albuquerque," the protest movement has renamed itself "(Un)occupy Albuquerque." The decision was made in a general assembly meeting of protesters at the University of New Mexico campus. On rejecting the term occupation, it validates the "...500 years of forced occupation of [Native American] lands, resources, cultures, power, and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn't."

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Comments

I agree with M. Spector's comment:  "occupy" has a lot of meanings, only some of which are colonial.  Occupation is a tactic that indigenous people have used in similar ways to workers in factories:  taking back what is (or should be) theirs.  There is absolutely no reason why indigenous and anti-capitalist activists can't cooperate around this tactic, and much more as well.  The whiteness of the occupy movement is apparent in several ways, most obviously the ginchy hand signals and procedural obsessions of the GAs: occupation is the least of it.  There are things we need to work through and bridges we need to build, but the "occupation = colonization" meme is not a constructive criticism. 

What Krystalline fails to acknowledge is that occupation is a time-honoured activist tactic aimed at asserting public rights against private, government, and corporate occupiers of lands, buildings, and other spaces. The labour movement has used it as well, to great effect. The whole point of Occupy Wall Street was to symbolically open up a space for the 99% in the enclaves of corporate financial control currently "occupied" by the 1% and their agents. It was not about possession or ownership of land per se, but rather the possession and ownership of society's wealth and its levers of economic power.

All land is "occupied" - North America was occupied by native populations before Europeans came and displaced them with their own occupation. Displacing the European occupiers would entail a reoccupation by the native peoples. There's really no mystery at all about how someone could "occupy already occupied land".

There is no reason for anyone to take offence at the word occupation, as used by the OWS protests and their spawn. Occupation can be as much a concept of liberation as it is of conquest, exclusion, and control. There is no reason to assume, without further evidence, that the OWS movement intended to exclude the participation of indigenous peoples from their movement, as some have suggested. Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary, as Ray Beckerman points out, above.

I also find it bizarre for indigenous spokespersons to talk about settler populations as being "guests" on stolen indigenous land, as if they are playing a role as gracious "hosts". That makes about as much sense as calling a burglar a "guest" in your house. If the land is stolen, the settlers are occupiers, thieves, and trespassers - but not guests.

Actually, the very first Occupy Wall Street movement -- the New York City Occupy Wall Street -- on its very first day, when it conducted its very first "General Assembly", included in its very first statement, a platform deploring colonialism "at home".

 

 

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